The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalms 114 and 115

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 29, 2013

Please note: In the Septuagint (i.e., the LXX) and Vulgate versions, Psalm 113 consists of 26 verses. The Massoretic text (i.e., the MT) treated these verses as two separate psalms (psalms 114 & 115). What is designated as Psalm 113:1-8 in the Sept./Vulg., is Psalm 114 in the MT. Psalm 113:9-26 in the Sept./Vulg., is Psalm 115 in the MT. Fathe Boylan’s numbering follows the Sept./Vulg., but he provided introductions to both part. Since most modern translations follow the MT numbering I have changed the numbering in the following post to correspond. The numbering employed by Fr. Boylan (following the Sept./Vulg.,) appears in square brackets, i.e., […].

Psalm 114 [113:1-8]

This hymn to God’s glory and power in the Exodus is poetically one of the finest passages in the Psalter. It is peculiarly regular in construction, swift in the movement of its thought, and strikingly vivid in its imagery. It consists of four short strophes. In the first strophe (1-2), the poet shows how the Exodus made the Hebrew people in an intimate way the possession of Yahweh. Juda became His sanctuary, and Israel his special belonging: the Hebrews in general became Yahweh’s “holy people,” His “royal priesthood.” The psalmist has fully realised that the events of the Exodus were the beginnings of the national life of Israel. The designation of Juda as the sanctuary of Yahweh is an implied reference to the Temple: it may indicate, perhaps, that the psahn was composed after the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C.

In the second strophe (3-4), the poet in a few brief words makes the chief incidents of the Exodus and of the desert-wanderings stand out vividly; he depicts the Red Sea fleeing in dread before the coming of Israel, the Jordan rushing back headlong towards its source, and Sinai so quaking at the presence of Yahweh that the poet likens its motion to the frisking of lambs.

In the third strophe (5-6) , the psalmist asks the Sea, and River, and Mountain with a sort of ironical chiding why they have acted with such strange want of dignity.

In the final strophe (7-S) he answers his own question. Before the face of Yahweh, the mighty God, at whose command water leaped from the rock, nature must tremble with reverent fear.

Psalm 115 [113:9-26]

The song begins with a prayer of the people assembled for worship (verses 1-2 [9-10]). In this prayer Yahweh is entreated to be mindful of His people, Israel, both for the sake of His customary graciousness and fidelity, and to prevent the possibility of mockery on the part of the heathen. It is true that Israel does not deserve any help from the Lord, for she has sinned, but, for His own sake, Yahweh ought to afford help.

In verses  3-8 [11-16] a choir of special singers makes a contrast between Yahweh and the gods of the heathen. Yahweh is a living and mighty God, but the gods of the heathens are mere products of man’s handiwork—helpless things, without sense or life. If the heathens mock Israel because she trusts in Yahweh, with infinitely more reason do they deserve to be mocked who put their trust in idols that are deaf and dumb and blind and altogether impotent.

In verses 9-11 [17-19] the different sections of the worshippers present—the people generally (Israel) those of the priestly class (House of Aaron), and the Proselytes (Those who fear the Lord) declare solemnly their trust in Yahweh.

After verse 11 [19] we may suppose a pause during which the sacrifice was offered. Then in verses 12-13 [20-21] the priest who is entrusted with the giving of the blessing pronounces it over the three groups already mentioned, and in verse 14 [22] a choir repeats the blessing, applying it to the entire people. The blessing invoked on the worshippers appears here more or less explicitly as an increase in the number of the people.

In verses 14-18 [22-26] the people join in a song, as at the beginning. In the introductory prayer they had asked for Yahweh’s help for Israel, because the kindness and fidelity of Yahweh demanded that such help should be given, and because if it were not given the heathens might come to look on Yahweh as helpless. Now the Lord is besought for help on the ground that if Israel is destroyed. He will have no real worshippers on earth. Sheol is so far removed from the heaven which Yahweh has chosen for dwelling-place that the Lord has no interest in its dwellers, and receives thence no worship of praise. Let Him then, keep Israel alive, and Israel will be mindful, on her part, of the ever-binding duty of praising Yahweh.

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